Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016 | 12:48 a.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports editors Ray Brewer and Case Keefer peek back at last week's rivalry games while beginning to wrap their heads around this week's packed schedule of them.
Faith Lutheran scored on its first play from scrimmage, never needed to punt and provoked a running clock within the first minute of the fourth quarter Friday night.
It was hard to believe that this is the Crusaders' first season playing in high school football’s upper level. Those who called for Faith Lutheran to make an impact in its new Northwest division despite a steep increase in competition were further validated as it crashed Cimarron-Memorial’s homecoming with a 57-20 massacre.
“There’s something we have to prove,” junior receiver Elijah Kothe said. “We’re just going out there and working every day. Our mantra is, ‘Get respect,’ so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Crusaders have now won three in a row, bringing their overall record to 4-3 accompanied by a league tally of 3-1, with the latest being the best of the bunch. They had two running backs, senior Christian Marshall and junior Saundre Spiller, run for at least 97 yards and two touchdowns.
Faith Lutheran also piled up more than 500 yards of offense, with sophomore quarterback Sagan Gronaeur ensuring balance by completing 15 of 22 passes for 231 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target was Kothe, who reeled in 10 catches for 151 yards and two scores.
“Those guys are doing great,” Faith Lutheran coach Vernon Fox said. “The kids are coming out and doing the things they’re taught. We had a lot of guys touch the ball and get into the end zone, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Faith Lutheran’s hurry-up, spread offense is helping to bring new flavor to what’s traditionally been a power run-heavy Northwest division. Friday’s game felt like it would be an even more radical break from the norm early, as defense was scarce in the first half with a shootout developing.
Faith Lutheran found the end zone on every possession except one where it lost a fumble. The Crusaders held the turnover edge, however, by recovering fumbles on each of the Spartans’ first two drives.
But the home team marched right into the end zone on its next three possessions behind senior running back Tyree Riley, who had 296 yards on 36 carries for the night. It brought Fox back to the 1990s when he starred at Cimarron before going on to play at Fresno State and in the NFL.
“One of our traditions here was having great running backs and (Riley) certainly fills that role,” Fox said. “I’m proud of that young man, and I let him know he has a bright future ahead of him.”
Faith Lutheran figured out how to stop him in the second half, though. After holding a 30-20 halftime lead, the Crusaders limited Riley to 76 yards on 14 carries in the second half and the Spartans never threatened to score.
“That’s what I think being a good football team is about: Finding ways to adjust when your back is against the wall, and doing that quickly,” Fox said. “Our guys are doing a great job of that. We tried to go in, make some adjustments and we played a much better second half.”
Faith Lutheran made Kothe the focal point of its offense, completing three straight passes to him on its first drive of the second half. Kothe also found the end zone on consecutive possessions to help the Crusaders pull away.
“He turns short gains into touchdowns and he’s a guy people haven’t been able to stop,” Fox said. “As long we have that weapon, we’re certainly going to utilize it.”
Kothe’s 36-yard touchdown catch wasn’t even close to the Crusaders’ longest scoring play of the game. Junior receiver Michael Peck made a leaping catch for a 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter, later to be topped distance-wise both by a 57-yard run from Spiller and a 48-yard dash from senior Alex Vancura.
All the highlights made it evident that Faith Lutheran’s classification wasn’t the only thing that rose this season. The Crusaders have heightened their level of play along with the move.